i don’t think we could talk about doubt & faith and miss one of the most critical reasons that it is tricky for people to connect with God in a real and intimate way: it is extremely confusing why such cruddy things happen in this world while God seems to “stand by and watch.” it comes up over and over again and isn’t something that can be solved with “everything happens for a reason” and “God has a plan” and “God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.”
two saturday eves ago at the refuge my friends mike & paul facilitated a conversation around this video “you out there?” from reycle your faith.
i believe at our core is a tension that we need to respect and recognize and not just push aside–there is a lot of bad $*!&!^@( that happens in this world. kids get horribly abused. people we love die. whole cities get wiped out by floods. houses burn down. jobs get lost. mental illness wreaks havoc. horrid injustices are being carried out against innocent & good & beautiful creations of God. if we start listing them and meditating on them and focusing on them and letting the reality of them get too far under our skin it is quite true that it can overwhelm us and cause us to doubt why we would even believe in the first place that God is good, that God cares, that God seeks after people, that God protects, that God is in control.
i am not even going to touch the “God is in control” one; my thoughts about that have radically shifted over the years, and i will be bold and say that when i hear people say things like “God must know what he is doing” it makes me into a nutty person. tell that to the little girl who was sexually abused from the time she was 3. i think we just need to be more honest that there are certain things that we just can’t reconcile unless we apply really, really bad theology. and because we are human beings who want to make sense of what cannot be made sense of, we grasp at things that “comfort” in one sense but can also great harm to people’s faith in another.
the promise of faith is that God is with us, will not leave us, will not forsake us. i do not think faith is rational, but i also don’t think it’s irrational; it lives in between these things, like a paradox. to make everything cause and effect, with God as the supreme micro-manager, is dangerous ground. it can end up blaming the victim and tears down the faith of the afflicted. to believe that God will make you whatever you want if you just have enough faith is magical thinking and not what God promises, either. the mystery and reality of God cannot be contained in our own feeble attempts to give reasons for everything. yet God loves us, God is with us. i believe in every part of me that this is true even when i can’t put proper words to it.
i do not believe God is up there controlling who does what & making things happen to teach us something. i do not understand why certain things happen and certain things don’t. but i will rest firmly on the reality of Genesis 3 & the notion that we live in a broken, crazy, messed up world & trying to get our heads around the ins and outs of it isn’t the idea. the idea to me is maybe more like asking ourselves these questions:
how do we become part of God’s redemption in the midst of such a mess? will we accept our lack of ability to reconcile what we so desperately want to make sense of in our own lives, and in the lives of others? will we taste a bit of hope & be able to pass it on to someone else? will we let go of what we want and accept the goodness in what we have? will we respect that this world is hard and bitter and often cruel but that Jesus is alive and well in the darkest of places in ways that our little minds and hearts often can’t even begin to understand? will we strain to see the light through the pitch black? will we respect that others often can’t see it and it’s not our job to tell them they are supposed to but instead just quietly & tangibly love them in their darkness? can we let others help us when we are in the same boat & can’t see the forest through the trees? will we beckon our ears & hearts & minds to the ways God is present that we might not easily notice?
lately i have been crying out to God in deep and sometimes scary ways. when you are around a lot of pain day in and day out it’s pretty rough sometimes. God, you out there? where are you? show up, why don’t you? and then i hear of someone going over to be with a friend in an hour of dire need; i see the texts and phone calls and emails that are being passed between fellow strugglers. i see friends going to recovery meetings together. i see food being brought to fill empty cupboards. i see hugs. i see tears. i see honest anger at God. i see people saying “yeah, it sucks sometimes, but i still believe”, i see people taking their next breath and staying in when ever part of them wants to flee. i see glimpses of hope. i see little small wacky miracles that don’t seem more than little kindnesses here and there but actually have the power to sustain life.
yeah, i can’t make sense of why certain things happen and why certain things don’t. why one friend finds a partner and another lives their life alone. why one child dies and another goes to college. why one has mental illness and another doesn’t. why a child is abused and no one does a damn thing about it. why one couple makes it and another ends up in a nasty divorce. why a tsunami comes in one town & not another. oh the list could go on and on and on but i don’t think we’d get any further. let’s just be more honest. we can’t make sense of it.
instead, may we just try in our own simple & rough & unedited ways to live more honestly, to wrestle with God but respect that maybe we’ve been taught some things about his control & character that don’t quite cut it like they used to, and to live in the tension of what we do not know and stay focused on what we do: Love & Hope & Kindness in dark places will always prevail.